Without even thinking to check my phone, I set off early for the forty minute drive to the airport, anxious to be there before they land. It's not until I park the car and walk into the terminal building, that I see the message saying they're delayed.
I sit and watch the arrivals board, seeing the details of their flight slowly inching to the top as the minutes tick by. Other planes land and there's a constant trail of people emerging from the baggage reclaim hall; you can tell straight away who's expecting to be met, they pause for a moment, looking around for a friendly face or a familiar name on a sign. You can tell who's pretending they fly all the time and don't need to be met - they determinedly don't look around, just march through, quickly heading to the car parks and onward transport. The unlucky few look lost and lonely, standing there hoping that someone will show them where to go.
When we were young, and air travel was still something of a novelty, my Dad would sometimes take us to watch the planes. I've never quite forgotten my surprise at how huge the planes were when you got up close; I've never got past wondering what strange sort of magic could lift a gigantic metal beast into the air then bring it safely back to ground again without smashing it to smithereens.
I was twelve when I got on a plane for the first time; heading for a holiday in Bulgaria with my family. It was the last time my sisters and I would go on holiday with both parents, though I didn't know that then. I don't remember anything of the flight; my memories of the holiday are little more than snapshots, captured quickly without much thought, momentary images that have somehow stayed.
In one, I'm wearing a cotton sun-dress, small bright flowers on a white background, a ruched elastic bodice, thin straps tied on my shoulders. The photo, taken from behind, catches me at the moment when the wind lifted the skirt of my dress, revealing nothing but the skinniest legs imaginable. I hated that picture so much, squirmed with embarrassment every time someone looked at it. In another, I'm wearing blue and yellow sandals with cork wedge heels. I'd insisted on buying them for our big holiday, never mind that they were impossible to walk in and went with nothing else. I wonder now at the defiance in those shoes and my pride in the looks they elicited from other holiday makers; so at odds with my shyness over the picture of my legs. Perhaps that's what it's like when you're twelve; nothing is consistent.
There's a picture of us all on a balcony, dark wooden balustrades marking out the area where we ate breakfast every day; yoghurt and berries, cheeses and hams, so different from the Rice Krispies and Weetabix I was used to at home, so exotic as it seemed to me then. I think there was an abundance of water melons, like huge green bowling balls, or split into slices that we'd spit the pips from. I think I remember ice-cream, chocolate and strawberry flavoured, cold watery crystals. But that couldn't have been breakfast, could it? Another memory from another holiday perhaps.
I think of all the other times I've been here at Gatwick, waiting for my children to return; from trips to their Dad in Ireland, from their first grown-up holidays abroad, from the summers spent working in Greece. I think about how I'm always so determined to see them first, as if not noticing their arrival, looking the wrong way, reading a book, would somehow be a betrayal, a sign I hadn't missed them. Today my determination pays off and I spot them before they see me. I don't know which of them to kiss or hug first, I resist the urge to throw my arms round both of them at once, careful not to over-react, or embarrass them too much.
As we turn and head for the short-stay car park, I think about how I've always loved airports; the huge shiny planes, the lure of far-off places, the excited faces of people setting off on new adventures. Today though, I realise that what I particularly love about airports is not the idea of going away, it's the certainty of people coming home.